Consumers: Gender Roles Have Changed. Advertising Hasn’t.

March 6, 2018

3 in 4 people in the US believe that traditional gender roles have changed. They don’t believe in  stereotypes such as a woman’s primary role being the caretaker of the home or a man’s primary role as being the breadwinner. But advertising isn’t keeping pace with expectations for gender inclusivity, according to a study from Omnicom Media Group (OMG).

Virtually all respondents believe that a range of societal roles and behaviors are appropriate for both men and women. These range from cooking family meals to caring for children, purchasing groceries, caring about one’s appearance and being career-focused.

Moreover, most people no longer identify as being completely masculine or completely feminine, per the report. So it makes sense that they would eschew traditional perceptions concerning gender roles.

As the report details, though, advertising is lagging in its gender portrayals. In fact, respondents are more likely to believe that there is equal gender representation in media than that there’s already non-gendered advertising (57% and 38%, respectively). In fact, they’re as likely to believe in equal career opportunities as they are in non-gendered advertising.

These results bring to mind separate research on this topic. Consider these data points:

  • In an analysis of ads released in 2017, men portrayed in commercials were twice as likely as women to have a job, widening a gap seen in ads from 2006-2016;
  • An analysis of ads released from 2006-2016 found women being almost 50% more likely than men to be shown in the kitchen; and
  • Almost half of women from various countries around the world surveyed last year agreed that TV ads show too many outdated gender stereotypes.

Research from A+E Networks, meanwhile (as reported here by Warc), indicates that more than 6 in 10 female consumers believe that women are frequently shown using negative stereotypes in ads.

In this latest study from OMG, 39% of consumers said they believe that advertising does not accurately represent all genders, and 30% felt that brands misrepresent them and their gender.

There are some indications that advertising is starting to be more inclusive: one-third of respondents agree that advertising challenges societal gender expectations (33%), empowers them to identify with whatever gender they choose (31%) and inspires them to express their gender however they want (31%).

There are some potential pitfalls to brands taking a stand, as only around one-third of respondents believe that brands should do so on gender issues. And brands risk alienating their existing customers: almost three-quarters would have a negative response to a brand they currently like or use if it became publicly known that the brand’s opinions on gender issues were different than the consumer’s. That includes almost one-third who would stop purchasing the brand.

Notably, previous research has found almost half (48%) of Americans believing that CEOs and business leaders should express their opinion about gender equality, against 30% who feel they shouldn’t. More recently, survey results from Sprout Social indicated that a similar 48% of social media users feel that all brands should take a stand on gender equality, against 26% who feel that it’s not a brand’s place.

It seems safe to assume that more inclusive gender portrayals should not be a controversial stand to take. Why? In most cases, the majority of consumers associate product and service categories as both masculine and feminine. This is true for categories ranging from Alcoholic Beverages (67%) to Banking/Financial services (66%), Consumer Technology (64%) and Home Improvement (60%). In fact, of the 18 categories identified, there were only two in which fewer than half believed them to be both masculine and feminine. Those categories? Jewelry (45%) and Beauty/Healthcare (43%).

Even for brands that want to shy away from taking a stand on gender in advertising, there are other ways to address gender issues. First and foremost is in hiring practices, per 59% of respondents, with corporate culture, PR communications and CSR also other methods.

One would hope, though, that advertising won’t be left behind.

About the Data: The OMB data is based on an online survey of 1,000 adults from a mix of age groups, genders, ethnicities, regions, incomes and urbanization levels.


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